Tuesday, January 19, 2021

When shepherds won't shepherd. . .

Already some folks have nodded their head at the headline.  Yes, we know of shepherds like that.  The presumption is that the shepherds who will not shepherd are those who are not friendly, winsome, welcoming, and gabby -- the kind who seem to do everything well except glad hand the masses.  As annoying as it might be when your pastor is more of an introvert or not adept at mingling with folks, this is not the big problem.  The big problem is when shepherd's don't shepherd -- not when they fail to make the small talk with their sheep and strangers.  That is not shepherding -- as nice as it is when a pastor is able to and feels comfortable doing the casual conversations with folks known and unknown.  Shepherding is preaching the whole counsel of God's Word, baptizing and then catechizing the baptized, hearing confession and speaking absolution to the penitent, presiding at the Lord's Table, visiting the sick and housebound, addressing the erring with God's Word, burying the dead, and consoling the grieving with the hope that is in Christ.  This is shepherding.  The other stuff, as much as you like it and as helpful as it might be to winning over the hearts of the sheep, is not the essential work of the shepherd.

The truth is that there are pastors (shepherds) who are stars at the small talk, friendly with strangers, and gifted with the gift of gab.  But if they are not preaching faithfully Law and Gospel, baptizing, teaching, absolving, presiding at the Eucharist, calling the fallen to repentance, burying the dead, and giving the grieving the real hope of a blest reunion with all who have died in the faith, he is not shepherding.  We have become too willing to accept lapses in the essential duties of the shepherd in Christ because the man may be popular and loved for the other stuff.  Now we should not have to choose between the qualities of our pastors (shepherds) but at minimum we should expect faithfulness to the real tasks and purposes of the ministry.  If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times to people who complain to me about their pastors.  If they preach faithfully the Word of God and administer the Sacraments faithfully, teach the faith to young and old, visit the sick, bury the dead, etc..., then you have a good pastor.  Strangely enough, I hardly ever get a complaint from people that their pastors fail to do these essential things but I heard complaints all the time about the other stuff when the shepherd is not adept at these things.  Are we satisfied for our shepherd to be friendly even if his sermons are empty of the Truth that endures forever?  Is it okay to have a shepherd who does not preach and teach so the the hunger for the Lord's body and blood is not awakened?  Is it okay to have a shepherd who does not proclaim baptism and catechize the baptized so that they know truth from error?  You get my drift.

The reason Lutheranism is in decline is not because our shepherds have been too faithful in preaching and teaching the faith, too encouraging to the baptized to receive absolution or the heavenly food of Christ's Table, too faithful in calling the erring to repentance, and too faithful in providing the pastoral care of God's Word to the sick, suffering, grieving, and dying.  Lutheranism is in decline because we have too many shepherds who do not do these things.  Friendliness is no substitute for faithfulness.  The shepherd is is good at everything but actually being a shepherd is doing no service to the people in his charge, the congregation in his care, and the faith that is supposed to be his primary domain.  As we begin a new year, it might not be a bad time to think on these things.


Paulus said...

My pastor has all the attributes you include here. For that I am thankful. However, he seems to have an aversion to liturgical worship. We have LSB in our pew racks, but my pastor tends to omit the Ordinaries as included in the Divine Service settings, preferring a hybrid type of service. Your thoughts?

Janis Williams said...

Praising Christ for the gift of shepherds who DO shepherd, both here in this congregation, and elsewhere. Pray for their increase, as the times are more against it than ever.